Catalogue entry

N01935 James Quin, Actor c. 1739

Oil on canvas 760×622 (29 15/16×24 1/2)
Inscribed ‘W Hogar [...] h pinx 17 [? 3...]’ bottom left corner, and ‘Mr: QUIN’ in yellow paint on bottom right spandrel
Purchased by the National Gallery (Clarke Fund) 1904; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1951
PROVENANCE ...; possibly ‘A well-painted Portrait of Quin the celebrated Actor’ owned 1817 by Mr Gwennap of Lower Brook Street; ...; according to Dobson (1907, p.219), owned by the actor Charles Matthews (1776–1835), but two portraits of Quin ascribed to Hogarth he is known to have owned are now in the Garrick Club, and he is unlikely to have owned this as well; ...; the 5th Marquess Townshend, Raynham Hall, Norfolk, by 1867; Townshend sale, Christie's 5 March 1904 (61) bt Agnew, from whom bt by the National Gallery
EXHIBITED National Portrait Exhibition, South Kensington 1867 (348); Dublin 1872 (National Portrait Section, no.152); R A Winter 1885 (6); La Peinture Anglaise, Louvre, Paris 1938 (66, repr.); Art and the Theatre, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight 1949 (96); Manchester 1954 (35); BC tour 1969 (77); Tate Gallery 1971 (108, repr.); British Portraits, BC tour, Bucharest, Budapest 1972–3 (13, repr.); The Georgian Playhouse, Hayward Gallery 1975 (17, repr.); Royal Opera House Retrospective, RA 1982 (187, repr.); Rococo Art and Design in Hogarth's England, Victoria and Albert Museum 1984 (p.67, E5, repr.)
LITERATURE Nichols & Steevens 1817, p.192; Dobson 1902, p.185; Dobson 1907, p.219; DNB 1908, XVI (for Quin); C.K. Adams, Catalogue of Pictures in the Garrick Club, 1936, nos.29, 399 (for other portraits of Quin from Matthews collection); W.K. Firminger, ‘The Members of the Lodge of the Bear and Harrow’, Ars Quattuor Coronatorum, XLVIII, 1938, pp. 102–37; Davies 1946, p.73; Beckett 1949, p.59, fig.153; A.P. Oppé, English Drawings at Windsor Castle, 1950, p.63, no.351, pl.61; Antal 1962, pp.58, 69, 231 n.6; Baldini & Mandel 1967, p.104, no.115, repr.; Paulson 1971, I, pp.342, 454, II, pp.24, 26, 27, 130, 427 n.48, 452 n.84; Webster 1979, pp.97, 102, repr.

One of Hogarth's most successful bust-portraits, it represents the leading tragic actor of the pre-Garrick era still at the height of his powers, but already showing the results of his proverbial greed at table. The heroic turn of the head and unusually elaborate (for Hogarth) carved stone surround seem to be an adaptation of the seventeenth-century Baroque bust-portrait formula and may serve to underline Quin's adherence to the old school of static and declamatory acting that was soon to be superseded by the naturalistic manner of Macklin and later Garrick.

Quin (1693–1766) was born in Covent Garden, London, the illegitimate son of an Irish barrister. By 1716 he was taking leading parts at Drury Lane, and after his great success as Falstaff in 1720 he never lost his leading position on the London stage. He was one of Hogarth's many friends in the theatre and both are listed as members of the masonic lodge which met at the Bear and Harrow, Butcher's Row, in 1730–2. In 1746 Quin appeared at Covent Garden with the rising star David Garrick in The Fair Penitent, where their different styles were seen to mutual advantage. Hogarth was to paint both actors and brought out this difference in the much more active poses he gave Garrick both in theatrical as well as in straight portraiture. Also in 1746, Hogarth compared Quin and Garrick, neither of whom was very tall, in a drawing, not entirely to the former's advantage: he characterised Quin's massive presence as ‘a very short proportion’, and Garrick's lithe and mobile figure as ‘a very tall proportion’ (Oppé 1950). A few years of genuine rivalry followed, but on 15 May 1751 Quin gave his last performance as a paid actor before retiring to his beloved Bath, to which he gave the famous description of ‘the cradle of age and a fine slope to the grave’. During retirement he became good friends with Garrick, who wrote the epitaph for his tomb in Bath Abbey.

Vain and hot-tempered (he is said to have killed two fellow-actors in duels), he was also generous, convivial and possessed of a brilliant if sometimes coarse wit. He was painted by several leading artists of the time, most notably by Gainsborough, whose splendid full-length of the actor in old age is in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988